Confrontation between UML and Speaker continuesUML chair Oli has accused Speaker Sapkota of disregarding the party’s recommendation to dismiss 14 lawmakers.
The bitterness between KP Sharma Oli-led CPN-UML and Speaker of the House of Representatives Agni Sapkota is not new.
Oli had reluctantly agreed to select Sapkota for Speaker from the then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) in January last year. They never had a cordial relationship as the head of the state and the head of the legislature. Both have publicly spoken against each other.
Their relations have not improved even after the UML became the main opposition party.
The UML on Tuesday asked Sapkota to dismiss 14 of its dissident lawmakers, including senior leader Madhav Kumar Nepal, on the charge of splitting the party.
As Sapkota has not yet acted on the request of the main opposition, Oli once again took a jab at the Speaker on Thursday.
Talking to a private news agency, Oli said Sapkota needs to prove he is not a cadre of the CPN (Maoist Centre) and must understand that he is not a judge.
The former prime minister said it was the Speaker's duty to issue a notice about lawmakers being relieved from their positions as recommended by the parties concerned.
On the same day, a group of UML lawmakers pressed Sapkota to immediately issue the notice and threatened him with consequences if he failed to do so.
Sapkota hasn’t issued the notice so far, saying he is still studying the request.
The UML has accused Speaker Sapkota of being biased. The Speaker's Secretariat, meanwhile, has accused the main opposition of issuing threats against the Speaker.
“We are seeing the ugly face of the confrontation between the UML and the Speaker that started ever since Sapkota’s election,” Surya Kiran Gurung, a former general secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “While the UML is responsible for escalating the animosity, the Speaker is also not without blame.”
Oli didn’t want Sapkota as Speaker when the position became vacant after the resignation of Krishna Bahadur Mahara in October 2019 over a rape allegation.
Oli, who at the time was prime minister and chairperson of then Nepal Communist Party (NCP), wanted a person of his choice in the position, as he had been accusing Mahara of not cooperating with his government.
However, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, another chairperson of the party, didn’t want the position to go to Oli’s candidate. When Oli was appointed prime minister from the CPN-UML, there was an agreement that the Speaker’s position would go to CPN (Maoist Centre).
After three months of tussle Oli finally relented. Sapkota, who was Dahal’s choice, became the head of the House of Representatives on January 20, 2020.
However, the executive and the legislature didn’t enjoy a cordial relationship. The increasing tussle between the then Oli faction and Dahal-Madhav Kumar Nepal faction of the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) worsened the relations between the two organs of the state.
The Oli government was always reluctant to provide business to the lower house. When it abruptly prorogued the House session on July 2 last year, Sapkota expressed his displeasure over the government for not consulting him.
Sapkota also boycotted the meeting of the Constitutional Council called by Oli in December last year, saying it was done without consulting him. Subsequently, Oli on December 15 issued on ordinance to revise the Constitutional Council (Functions, Duties and Responsibilities) Act, 2010, allowing the council to take the decision in the presence of a majority of the members; in other words, not requiring Sapkota and then leader of the opposition, Sher Bahadur Deuba, to be present in the council’s meeting.
There was also a confrontation between the government and Sapkota’s Secretariat over the timing of the no-confidence motion tabled on the day Oli dissolved the lower house for the first time on December 30.
While Sapkota’s Secretariat said the dissident faction of then Nepal Communist Party (NCP) had registered the no confidence motion at 10:30 am before the House dissolution, those close to Oli said it was registered at 3:30pm after the dissolution. The Parliament Secretariat later said the motion was registered after the dissolution.
On January 31, Sapkota returned the nominations made by the council to its secretariat, saying there wasn’t a possibility to conduct the hearing as the House of Representatives had been dissolved.
The Parliamentary Hearing Committee, which had representatives from both the lower and upper houses, conducted the hearing. However, Sapkota had returned the recommendation without consulting the chairperson of the upper house. Five days later, on February 5, he moved the Supreme Court against the executive, the judiciary and the Office of the President in an unprecedented incident in Nepal’s democratic history. The case remains sub judice at the Supreme Court.
The Oli government in an attempt to prove Parliament irrelevant never provided business to the House even after the Supreme Court through its February 23 verdict reinstated the House.
Observers believe the House suffered due to the sour relationship between the government and the Speaker. And the confrontation between the main opposition and the Speaker at present too will do harm to the parliamentary system.
“This is definitely not a good sign for the parliamentary system. The system will suffer the most due to such confrontation,” Som Bahadur Thapa, former secretary at the Parliament Secretariat, told the Post. “The present confrontation has been ignited by the UML. It should stop defaming the Speaker’s position.” Thapa said there is nothing wrong when the Speaker seeks time to study and the UML should wait until he makes the decision to comment on the request.
Sapkota’s aides say the undemocratic and threatening behaviour by the UML wouldn’t help address their concern.
“The law allows 15 days to take the decision,” Shreedhar Neupane, a media expert for Sapkota, told the Post. “What’s wrong in studying the request when it is allowed by the law?”
The UML leaders, however, say Sapkota had promptly acted on a similar request by the Maoist Centre to strip four of its lawmakers from their positions in April. However, he is taking time now.
“Sapkota’s role clearly shows he is not neutral,” Shanta Chaudhary, a UML whip, told the Post. “His action should prove he is not favouring some party or alliance.”
The Nepal faction has already applied for a new party as per the ordinance to amend the Political Party Act, issued by President Bidya Devi Bhandri on Wednesday. The UML wants the 14-lawmakers who have sided with Nepal to lose their membership of the lower house before the new party forms.
“In my observation Sapkota has shown his soft corner to his party and its political position,” Taranath Ranabhat, a former Speaker, told the Post. “However, the UML has blown the issue which it shouldn’t be doing. Attack on Sapkota is also an attack on the Speaker’s position. They should show respect for the position at least.”